• Using online tools to expand terrorism

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    AL S. VITANGCOL III

    A HACKER, known as the “Independence Day” hacker, struck again on June 12 this year and defaced several government websites, as well as a private corporation’s website. The hacker displayed the messages “Operation Independence Day” and “Stop Martial Law Now” on the defaced websites.

    In a follow-up operation, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) declared that it has already identified the hacker and will arrest him as soon as the warrant of arrest is released. The hacker identified himself as “We are AnonGhost Philippines” (which of course is not his real identity).

    In a similar style, the website of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) was crashed during the country’s 117th Independence Day celebration in 2015. The NHCP website was replaced with a “Message to the President” addressed to then President Aquino. A group called Global Security Hackers claimed responsibility for the attack.

    Independence Day in 2014 was a little different. There was no hacking of government websites. A group of hackers, who named themselves Pinoy Vendetta, penetrated several Chinese websites and displayed a demand for China to “follow the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.”Pinoy Vendetta posted in their Facebook page the website addresses of the 83 Chinese websites that they defaced on that day.

    The Philippine government vowed to charge the hackers who attacked the Chinese websites. However, to date, no one was charged for that Independence Day hack in 2014.

    The biggest mass hacking of Philippine government websites—wherein visitors to the website were redirected to a specific website owned by the attackers –occurred during the Independence Day celebration in 2012. Here, the hackers were protesting the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

    The 2012 “victims” were the Office of the Vice President, Department of Justice, Philippine Information Agency, Department of Science and Technology, National Food Authority, Department of Health, Senate Electoral Tribunal, Optical Media Board, and the Local Government Unit of Mandaluyong City, among others. The redirection of the website addresses was owned up by a group called PrivateX, a coalition of Filipino hackers HukbalaHack, Anonymous, and Philkers.

    Normally, hackers use the hacked/defaced websites to send across a message – a message which cannot be delivered to the proper authorities through normal media channels, without risking exposure.

    In a related development, Facebook management committed to take down accounts, which engage in “terrorist activities.” The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had earlier requested Facebook Philippines to undertake “necessary measures” to takedown 63 Facebook accounts used by the Maute terrorist group and their sympathizers.

    According to the AFP, these accounts are “spreading malicious information and misinformation that affect the information landscape and mindset of every Filipinos.”

    I mentioned in last week’s column that the Internet can be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Similarly, the Internet can be utilized to spawn terrorism and even discrete and encrypted communications.

    Section 702 of the United States’ FISA Amendments Act of 2008 allows the targeting of communications, for foreign intelligence purposes, such as counter terrorism. This surveillance include that of communications as it transits Internet devices, such as e-mail, social media chat, and online messenger applications. FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

    To ensure that non-targets are spared from surveillance and that the privacy and civil liberties of the citizens are not violated, the US Department of Justice and the Director of National Intelligence are required to provide semi-annual reports to the US Congress and quarterly reports to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

    Further, the US Stored Communications Act authorizes the government to force an Internet Service Provider to reveal the contents of electronic messages without a warrant in specific instances.

    Terrorists, knowing that their communications might be under surveillance, choose to encrypt their communications. These might include data hiding such as steganography and cryptography.

    In steganography, the terrorist can send an e-mail containing a plain-looking image. The receiver then opens the image with a steganography key and the hidden message becomes visible. Technically, steganography disguises the existence of a message while cryptography disguises the content of the message. There were reports that ordinary websites were used to hide the exchange of messages by terrorists belonging to the group of Osama bin Laden.

    It is evident that the Internet can be used by terrorists to recruit new members, spread their political ideology, raise funds through blackmail, communicate freely even under surveillance by authorities, and create chaos and havoc in society (which is in fact the primary objective of terrorism.)

    By the way, Independence Day hacking is not confined to the Philippines alone. Last year, the Kerala Cyber Warriors hacked at least 50 Pakistan-based websites in celebration of India’s Independence Day. Prior to that, in 2015, again in celebration of India’s Independence Day, a group of black hat hackers, the Hell Shield Hackers, brought down 100 Pakistani business websites.

    So, what is it about Independence Day that drives hackers to do their thing on that particular day?

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